Congratulations. You’ve signed-up with NextAgency. (At least, I hope you have. And so should you!). Now you want to get your client data into your new software. Immediately. I don’t blame you. The sooner you start using your new agency management system, the sooner you’ll have a more effective and efficient agency.
Yet, may I suggest you pause first to do a little planning? Thinking about how you want to organize your client data before uploading it will help you get the most out of NextAgency (or any similar software). This post offers a simple way to do that. And the minutes you spend in planning now may save you hours later.
Definitions and Structure
Insurance agents use a lot of terms. Sometimes different words for the same thing. Which can get pretty confusing. So, for the purpose of this post, let’s agree on the following:
Cases are your customers and potential customers. They may be individuals or groups. Active or inactive. Leads, prospects, or clients. These are the people and organizations that buy coverage from you – or who you hope will buy coverage from you.
Market Segments describes whether the policy or product your selling is for individuals or groups. To determine the market segment, ask “Who pays the premium?”
In NextAgency we provide three market segments: individual, small group and large group. For technical reasons, the market segment options are one of the few items that cannot be edited.
Sales Statuses defines your relationship to the case. Is it someone who you already work with or someone you hope to work with? To determine sales status ask “What is this case to my agency?”
In NextAgency we start you off with two sales statuses: prospects and clients. For many agencies this is enough. However, you may add as many other statuses as you want.
For example, some of our agencies sell benefits and other products (like P&C or payroll services). Several have created a sales status for each product line (for example, “Client-Benefits,” “Client-Payroll” and“Client-Multiple”).
Sales Stages describe where the case is in your world. Stages vary depending on a case’s status. For example, you may be trying to reach a prospect for the first time or you may be showing them a proposal. Your clients may be doing fine or they may be having a service problem. To determine sales stages ask, “What is happening with this case?”
You can group stages into processes – sometimes called pipelines. We provide some default pipelines, as identified by the color associated with each stage. Again, however, you can quickly edit these or make your own.
Fine-tuning Statuses and Stages
Knowing the questions to ask enables us to begin shaping how our case data is organized. After all, you know your block of business well enough to anticipating the kind of answers you’ll get to these questions. You can use this knowledge to choose the statuses and stages that work best for your agency. Let’s see how.
Market Segment: Who pays the premium? Either an individual or an organization of some kind. Whether an organization is a “small group” or “large group” is for you to decide. Just be consistent.
Sales Status: What is this case to my agency? If the case is already a client, do you have different kinds of clients? For example, are you a sub-agent of another agency on some cases? Or do ever act as GA? You may want to have separate statuses for each type of client. Or you may want to distinguish between hot and cold prospects. Choose the statuses that make the most sense for your agency.
Sales Stages: What is happening with this case? If everything is going well with a client, everyone on your team should know. Similarly, if a client is having a service issue, your team needs to know that, too. For prospects, your team should know if an appointment has been set or if the case is in the process of enrolling.
About active versus inactive cases: There’s a difference of opinion among NextAgency’s brokers as to whether “active” versus “inactive,” (or “closed” or “termed”) should be a status or a stage. There’s no right answer. By default, NextAgency includes active and closed as stages. However, if you prefer to use them as statuses, it only takes a minute to make that change. Active/Inactive are one of the few items that can go in either category
Keep it Simple
At NextAgency, making it easy to personalize our agency management system is an important part of our design philosophy. Which means we’ve seen a lot of agencies organize their case data in different ways. There’s no single approach that’s right for every health, life or senior insurance agency. And that’s fine.
However, there is one lesson that comes through regardless of how the data is organized: keep it simple. This is especially true with sales statuses. Some agencies tend to get extremely granular with this list. Yet there’s no need.
That’s because there are dozens of built-in fields to help you understand your cases. And you can create as many custom fields as you like. If you want to assign each case a Dewey Decimal System number, go for it. (Although really?) But you don’t have to create dozens of sales statuses. And you probably don’t need dozens.
Keeping it simple means everyone in your agency will understand how your case data is organized. This means everyone will be entering the data consistently. They’ll be able to quickly find what they need. And new hires will find it easier to get up to speed.
Best of all, you can adjust things down the road. The simpler you structure your data in the beginning, however, the faster you’ll get up-and-running. Which means the sooner you’ll be saving time, money and clients.
NextAgency is an agency management system with CRM and commission management tools for health, senior and life agencies. Our goal is to help agents and brokers save time, money and clients. To learn more, please visit www.NextAgency.com.
Making promises to prospects and client is easy. Keeping them can be harder. Yet following through on commitments you make to clients is critical to sales success. That’s why we’re pleased to introduce Timelines in NextBroker. With Timelines’ personalized, powerful to-do lists, commitments don’t fall through the cracks.
Follow Through is Hard, but Matters
Typically a client calls with a problem and your agency commits to help resolve it. Hopefully, you also promise to provide a progress report on a date certain. Keeping clients informed of what’s happening can relieve anxiety and demonstrates your customer service chops.
Failing to provide that update, however, can make matters worse. Your client initially was concerned about their service problem. Now they’re disappointed your agency failed to follow through. Even when you solve their problem, that disappointment may linger.
Most of us don’t make promises intending not to keep them. (Most of us don’t work in Washington, DC). The problem is you have lots of commitments to fulfill and keeping them is just part of what you do in a day. Keeping track of all the balls you’re juggling can be hard. John Lennon wrote, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” The corollary is that work keeps happening when you’re trying to work.
Yet fulfilling commitments is vital to sales success. That was a (not particularly surprising) finding in research I conducted on what separates successful health insurance brokers from their less accomplished colleagues. In the book that came out of this study, Trailblazed: Proven Paths to Sales Success, I describe this trait as sales professionalism –being worthy of clients’ trust and reliance in your abilities and expertise.
Without this trust, closing sales is harder, renewing cases is difficult, getting referrals is nearly impossible. Prospects and clients are apt to leave when a more trustworthy advisor comes along. Having the trust of your clients matters. Failing to fulfill your commitments undermines trust. It really is that simple.
So how does NextAgency help you keep your clients’ trust? Glad you asked.
NextBroker Introduces Timelines
NextBroker helps you keep your commitments. (As a reminder, NextBroker is the agency management component of NextAgency). One way we do this is through tasks — and tasks in this context is a synonym for promises. Within a task you can set due dates and reminders. You can prioritize them, assign them to others on your team, add files and much more.
With NextBroker you can also export your tasks to your Outlook or Google Calendar. From there the task syncs with your phone. This approach is a big step in keeping commitments out of those proverbial cracks. Deadlines are easy to keep when your reminded of them by your agency management system, desktop calendar and phone.
Now we do more. A few weeks ago, we added Timelines to NextBroker. Timelines are powerful, personalized to-do lists for you and every member of your team. You see all your tasks in one place and can focus on what you need to know. Today’s tasks are a click away. So are tomorrow’s or any date range you specify. Want to see the progress on tasks you assigned to colleagues? Simple. Want to see the tasks your partner assigned to you? Easy.
Client trust is too precious to assign to Post-it notes and scraps of paper. So we made it simple to create Timelines. Just capture your client commitments as tasks within NextBroker. We do the rest for you.
Making promises is easy. With NextBroker Timelines, keeping them just got a whole lot easier.
Attend a NextAgency demonstration to See how NextBroker Timelines can help you keep your commitments. Register today for an upcoming webinar at https://meetme.so/NextAgency.
If you have clients that meet the Affordable Care Act’s definition of a “large group,” they may soon receive an unwelcome letter from the Internal Revenue Service — if they haven’t already. This Letter 226J informs these groups that they may be liable for an Employer Shared Responsibility Payment (ESRP) based on a discrepancy between what the group submitted to the IRS in 1094-C and 1095-C forms for the 2015 tax year and the individual income tax returns filed by some of the group’s employees for that tax year.
If your client gets this letter they’re likely to be … confused and perhaps a bit unsettled. Since they’ll figure out the letter involves their benefit plans they’ll soon be calling you.
What’s going on here? And what are you supposed to do about it?
Before we answer those questions a caveat: this post is not providing legal advice. Consult your lawyer for that. Instead, think of this article as a heads-up: expect calls from some of your larger clients (because you’re not busy enough in the fourth quarter). When those calls come in you’ll want to be ready.
What’s Going on Here
Remember the ACA’s employer mandate to offer health care coverage to their employees? This requirement creates an opportunity for employers to pay-or-play. If they offer qualifying coverage, great. If they don’t, they are required to make an Employer Shared Responsibility Payment. An ESRP is government-speak for “hefty fine.”
Groups demonstrate they chose to play and provided coverage when they 1094-C and 1095-C with the Internal Revenue Service. If the group’s workers income tax filings show they had no qualifying coverage when employed by the firm, however, a flag gets raised deep in an IRS basement somewhere (figuratively speaking). The raising of this flag triggers an IRS Letter 226J to your client
When it comes to determining if your client is subject to an ESRP, size matters. So does timing. Originally the large group employer mandate was to take effect in 2014. The Obama Administration, however, postponed enforcement until the 2015 tax year for groups of 100 or more full time equivalent employees (FTEs). Groups of 50 or more FTEs needed to comply with the mandate in 2016. FTEs is different than a simple headcount of full-time employees. FTEs take into account hours worked by employees working part-time or for part of the year.
This means groups with 100 or more FTEs in 2015 were required to provide qualifying coverage or pay a fine. Letters concerning that fine are going out now. In 2016, clients with 50 or more FTEs will be subject to this requirement. That means in 2018 even more IRS letters are likely to flow out of that basement. And that, in turn, means more unsettled clients.
What You Are Supposed to Do About It
If the terms like ESRP, FTE, 1094-C and the like sound like gibberish to you, don’t worry. Most acronyms sound like gibberish. But that doesn’t mean you don’t need to get educated about them. Now. Fortunately, that’s a relatively straightforward process.
If you’re a member of the National Association of Health Underwriters, head over to NAHU’s Compliance Corner. There’s a plethora of information there. You can also submit questions on the site and have them answered by HR professionals. If you’re not a NAHU member, join today. Access to the tools and resources in the NAHU Compliance Corner alone is worth the membership fee (and membership gets you so much more).
Even if you consider yourself an ACA pro, NAHU’s resources are invaluable. So is information available on the IRS site. They offer a clear explanation of the explanation of the Letter 226-J and a useful guide to the employer mandate, including a guide for calculating FTEs.
Several companies specialize in supporting insurance professionals and their clients with expert benefit advice and help in navigating the ACA. Ask your colleagues and peers for recommendations. Just a word of caution: some vendors will try to tie you into multi-year, expensive contracts. Be careful, you’re looking for answers to benefit questions and that shouldn’t require such a long-term commitment.
When your clients receiving an IRS Letter 226J call you, remember, you’re an insurance professional, not an attorney or CPA. Channel your inner Doctor McCoy and inform them of this reality. (Unless, of course, you are an attorney or CPA in which case, proceed at your own risk).
The point is, be careful of offering advice — and accepting liability — you’re not qualified to provide. When you get the call, your job is to calm your client, let them know this is happening across the country, and reassure them you’re happy to work with their tax advisor. Then encourage them to call that tax advisor, share the letter, and give that adviser your contact information.
As a rule, letters from the IRS are rarely fun and Letter 226Js are not the exception to that rule. They will require you to put in some additional effort. That’s OK. Providing service to your clients is a critical part of what professional insurance brokers do. Arm yourself with an understanding of this area of the law and take your own advice: stay calm.
Some people make decisions based on data; others tap into more emotional factors. Deciding to adopt an agency management system is a big decision. The rewards can be tremendous, but it takes money and time to make it work. (Fortunately, some options, like NextAgency, are more affordable and easy-to-use than others, but that’s for another post). When considering agency management software, considering both objective and subjective perspective can be helpful.
You’ll see some posts from the subjective perspective in this blog soon, but for this article, let’s focus on some objective data.
Several years ago, I led a study of insurance agents called the Trailblazed Sales Project. We surveyed 200 professionals in six states who specialized in individual, small group and senior insurance sales. Our goal was to find out what separated successful producers from their less successful competitors. The results formed the basis of my book, Trailblazed: Proven Paths to Sales Success.
We surveyed health insurance agents for two reasons. First, several large health insurers underwrote the study and wanted data they could use. Second, and more important, health insurance agents make an ideal subject for this kind of study. By law and regulation, every agent in a community sells the same products for the same price – no discounts or games allowed. If a broker closes more sales than others in the same community, it’s the result of what that broker is (or isn’t) doing.
Although selected at random, the sales success of our respondents fit nicely into a bell curve. About 25% had seen year-over-year sales growth of 20% or more. Roughly half experienced some annual growth, but less than 20%. And close to 25% saw no growth or their sales declined from the previous year. We categorized the respondents as High Growth, Low Growth or No Growth Producers, then set about seeing what practices, processes and perspectives separated one category from the others.
We identified several drivers of sales success and grouped those into what, in the book, I refer to as paths and trails. This blog isn’t the place to dive deeply into all the attributes that separate High Growth Producers from their less successful colleagues. That’s what the book does. There are, however, a few drivers that brokers considering whether to adopt an agency management system – or any new technology – should consider.
The survey showed, for example, that High Growth Producers are significantly more likely to incorporate technology into their business. This was across virtually every type of technology an agency could deploy. Not surprisingly, No Growth Producers were the least likely to use technology. This finding – part of the Business Acumen path – was closely related to another: High Growth Producers were much more likely to invest in their business than their colleagues.
Successful sales professionals, the study found, marshal resources to drive their businesses forward. It can be difficult to determine which is the cause or effect here. Are brokers successful because they invest in their business? Or are already successful brokers better able to make an investment in their business?
Based on my sales experience, which spans decades in a variety of roles and companies, I believe there is a virtuous circle at play. Investments breed success which enables additional investments. While the study didn’t determine which is egg and which is chicken, at some point every agency had to take a leap of faith and make that first investment. Whichever comes first, what the data shows is clear: success comes to agencies who invest in the tools necessary to be successful. The data shows High Growth Producers use some of these investments to bring technology into their businesses.
These two drivers, taken together, signify that marshaling resources in connection to technology correlates highly with success. High Growth Producers recognize that technology can give them a competitive edge. By simplifying administrative tasks insurance agency software can free up time for brokers and their teams to focus on selling to prospects and servicing clients.
However, this leads to additional questions: How much to invest? In what technologies? From what vendors? My next post will dive into how to determine what to invest – and if any investment is worthwhile. As to what specific technologies, the answer is simple: only that software that can save you time, make you money and gain a competitive edge.
NextAgency: A Sound Investment
However, this leads to additional questions: How much to invest? In what technologies? From what vendors? My next post dives into the whether and how much questions. As to what specific technologies, the answer is simple: invest in software that saves save more time, make you more money and provides a greater competitive edge than you’d have without the investment.
Now, I’m biased here, but I’d like to point out that NextAgency rises to the occasion. No surprise here. We built NextAgency to help brokers save time, money and clients.(In a previous post I wrote about how to determine if investing in agency management software made sense, but let’s talk about NextAgency in particular.)
NextAgency’s agency management system, NextBroker, puts all your forms and documents in one place, so you and your team don’t waste time trying to find it – or worse, discover you left forms at the office you need in your prospect’s office. With NextBroker, all the documents and forms you need are just a few clicks away, wherever you have an internet connection.
Keeping commitments and meeting deadlines lead to more sales. NextBroker makes that easy by keeping notes, tasks and reminders accessible to everyone who needs to see them – and only those who need to see them.
Getting what you have earned gives you the resources needed to invest in technology. That’s why NextBroker includes commission tracking tools to identify missing payments and help create commission statements for employees and outside sub-agents.
Agency management systems should make it easier to obtain quotes, send out proposals and submit enrollment forms. NextBroker does all that.
The Trailblazed Sales Project Study shows that one reason High Growth Producers sell more than others is that they do a better job of marshaling their resources. This includes investing in their agency when it’s needed.
To see why NextAgency may be the agency management system your agency needs, please visit NextAgency.com. Better still, see a demonstration of NextAgency in action by registering for one of our regular webinars. And see how our agency management system can lead to sales success.
Let’s call her Jane, but we could call her Tom, Dick or Mary. There’s a lot of health insurance agents like Jane. She’s successful, yet dealing with all too many, all too common problems.
Commissions are falling so she needs more clients just to stay whole. With all the news and regulatory changes coming out of Washington, those clients need more service than ever. Jane already works hard. She knows working harder isn’t the answer. She needs to work smarter.
Meanwhile, information is flowing in from everywhere. Getting the right person (whether a colleague, client or carrier) the right information at the right time is a Herculean task. She has the information … somewhere. Maybe on that Post-it or in that folder? Maybe it’s in a spreadsheet, but which one? Or is it on that scrap of paper on her assistant’s desk?
There are days Jane feels like she and her team spend more time tracking down data than they do selling to prospects and servicing clients.
Worse, time spent tracking down information is time spent away from her clients. Which means too often they only hear from her is when they call with a problem or at renewal. You know, when Jane is dealing with bad news. Jane knows this is no way to build client loyalty — and that she needs that loyalty. Her world is full of competitors seeking to pry her business away.
What Jane needs is a simple, affordable solution that allows her to better manage her agency while reminding her clients of the value she delivers to them every day.
Fortunately, that’s exactly what we built NextAgency to do.
NextAgency Solves Problems
NextAgency provides Jane with NextBroker, a powerful yet intuitive agency management system that keeps all the information her agency needs in one place, accessible from anywhere there’s an Internet connection. This means all the forms and notices, quotes and notes related to every prospect and client is organized and close-at-hand. NextBroker even helps Jane track commissions and pay her sub-agents. All of which is good news for Jane’s agency, but bad news for the Post-it people.
We built NextAgency for health insurance agents Jane – for agents like you. If you’re looking to build a more effective and efficient agency and a way to provide your clients with consistent and appreciated value, you need to see NextAgency in action.
That’s easy to do. Just register for one of our regular webinars. And visit our web site to see how affordable NextAgency is … especially with the 50% off we’re offering through the end of the year. We’ll even get your agency data uploaded into NextAgency – also for free through the end of 2017.
NextAgency saves brokers time, money and clients. If that’s something you’re interesting in doing, we look forward to talking with you soon.